Editor’s Note: Welcome to V7, an all-day series on May 15, 2020 that celebrates Vanyaland’s 7th anniversary. We launched back on May 15, 2013 with a brand new publication and a livestream (yeah, before it was cool), and to celebrate the day, Vanyaland’s editors, senior writers, and publisher have offered up their own personal favorites from the world of music, film, and comedy. Below is a contribution from Comedy Editor Jason Greenough.
I started watching stand-up comedy right around the age of 14, and until all the jokes that initially went over my head as a young, sheltered teen started to make sense, what drew me in besides the humor was the excitement I felt every time a special was starting. I can’t tell you exactly why I felt that rush, but I know that it was what kept me searching for more. Over the years since then, I’ve spent countless hours binging stand-up specials, but here are seven, in no particular order, that will forever find their way into my programming schedule.
Robert Kelly, Live at the Village Underground
I’ve watched/listened to Robert Kelly’s special upwards of 30 times since it came out, and the comedy power in it hasn’t downgraded for me in the slightest. As a bit of a husky fella myself, this hour speaks to me in ways very few comedy specials have. Like, as much as I do love apples, a Mac n’ cheese apple sounds super dope. I feel that on an emotional level. There’s also a good amount of material where Kelly dishes on his childhood, like how it felt dealing with macho Boston uncles, and that also really resonates with me for a myriad of reasons. This special is all killer, no filler. Just straight rocket fuel.
Neal Brennan, 3 Mics
I’ve always been attracted to comedy that makes you feel something other than laughter. Obviously, the overall goal is to laugh, but I’ve always found an appreciation for the material that forces you to think from a different perspective, or feel other emotions, and this special from Neal Brennan has a whole lot of that. After really thinking about it, I don’t resonate so much with the specific experiences Brennan shares, but the vulnerability he exudes in this showing is just bonkers. I am a firm believer that you’ll be hard pressed to find a special that is as creatively structured, poignant, and sturdy as this one.
Eddie Murphy, Delirious
After a few years of watching my mother’s beaten-up VHS tape of Richard Jeni’s A Good Catholic Boy, my baptism into the comedy genius of Eddie Murphy came in the form of Delirious, and it’s been a staple in my stand-up special rotation ever since I found my own copy of it in a $5 dump bin at Walmart. Raw always seems to get the gold standard treatment when it comes to discussing Murphy’s best stand-up work, and that’s understandable, but his bonafide rockstar status, specifically in this special — from his strut and his attitude to the red leather jumpsuit — is just simply iconic. From the cookout story to Aunt Bunny falling down the stairs, there just isn’t one bit that doesn’t deserve some form of quoting from time to time.
Dane Cook, Vicious Circle
In my early teen years, I lived in a fairly strict religious household, and I went to church like a good Jesus-lovin’ boy. It was around that period of my life that I first discovered this special from Dane Cook, and given that it wasn’t the clean, Brian Regan-esque comedy my folks would prefer I watched, it felt exciting and dangerous (not Dane-gerous) to watch it with the volume on low in my room. Now, all these years later, it doesn’t feel quite as dangerous anymore, but I still love every minute of it as if it was my first time watching it. Sound bites like “B slash E,” “When you die, nothing happens,” “I’m the Cobra Commander in this goddamn house,” and “I did my best!” have always stuck with me, even after all the other great bits the Dane Train has put together since then.
Mike Birbiglia, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
At this point, Mike Birbiglia has a whole collection of heartfelt and wonderfully-crafted one-man shows to his credit. They’re all great in their own regards, but for me, there is just something that separates this one from the pack. I think it has something to do with it feeling raw and polished at the same time, as the emotion is so potent throughout the performance, but still incredibly funny. I really can’t put a finger on exactly why this hour, of all of his hours sticks out to me the most, beyond the fact that it shows a natural creative growth on Birbiglia’s part in terms of his verbal illustration and virtually flawless transitions, but what I do know for sure is that his “sticking the landing” gives me a bit of a chill every time.
Dan Cummins, Don’t Wake The Bear
What other stand-up special offers advice on sidewalk etiquette, making your own finger puppets out of squirrels and asserting dominance at a sorely outdated YMCA? The answer is probably none, and that, along with Dan Cummins’ innate storytelling abilities is what makes this special such a staple for me. The stories never get old, and the volley between subdued and periodic volatility, at least at that point in his career, is prime Cummins, and the relatable frustration with society has provided a laugh and gotten me through some rough days where I’ve dealt with the unruly public.
Tom Segura, Completely Normal
If memory serves me correctly, I was home sick with Bronchitis around the time Tom Segura’s special premiered, and admittedly, I wasn’t totally sold on it the first time I watched it (most likely from the cold meds, I assume), but I gave it another try a few weeks later, and since then, I’ve watched it at least 15 times. The whole hour is great, with his all-too-realistic reenactment of an episode of The First 48, and “sup, Kane?” only making up a small fraction of what makes this hour so good, but the bit on Steven Seagal really gets me every single time.